2 September 2019
Before the curtain rises on the show, the director, Matt Salisbury, appears in front of the curtains to announce that it is 30 years to the week that ‘Buddy’ first opened on the same stage as it is performing tonight. It has had phenomenal success across the UK and across the World. The audience are expectant – many appear to know the show well – for me it is the first time I have seen it.
When it opened in 1989, it almost started the trend of juke-box musicals which has almost become an epidemic, but this one was about one performer one with a fascinating, though tragically short life.
By the end of the performance, the vast majority of the audience are on their feet cheering and applauding as the curtain calls are taken. I am sitting there wondering what to make of the show – it is not what I expected.
Recent biographical musicals such as ‘Beautiful’ – about Carol King and ‘Motown’ – about Berry Gordie have strong storylines giving plenty of background to the main character/s with a raft of song illustrating their progress.; what we have with ‘Buddy’ are very brief snippets of information and set piece after set piece – at times I thought I was just watching tribute acts at work. I longed for more depth – but so sketchy is the story, that I came out of the theatre none the wiser. Yes, the performances are fine, but there is no acting here as there is nothing to act really. How I longed to engage with the characters on some level – but the writing is two-dimensional at best and offers the audience nothing but an arms-length view of the singer’s life – there is so little detail it could have been sketched out on the back of a postcard.
Somewhere within this show is a really good show wanting to get out – the story of Buddy Holly told so much better – the programme notes just illustrate what is not investigated and which could so easily be used with the songs built around it.
Unlike the aforementioned shows, this is a low-budget one – no flashy sets, no automated pieces of furniture moving on and off stage at will – here they are manhandled by stage crew. It feels dated and, dare I say, would be very passable on the amateur stage.
Lighting was poor and unimaginative and the follow-spot operator did not have a good night – except when it was meant to be wrong. The very basic projections are poor quality and out of focus. The whole show feels very cut-price.
The skills of the performers are self-evident as they are called upon to play the music live – no miming here – and they make a great sound. A J Jenks performs really well as Buddy; accomplished as both singer and musician – a pity he is not called upon to act very much as there is so little for him to get his teeth into. The rest of the cast do what they are called upon to do and are effective enough.
I would so loved to have enjoyed the show more – the music is great, but there could be so much more. The show is in dire need to a re-vamp – it is tired and dated and is really no more than a set of tribute acts performing at a local venue. The script is limp and lazy and the show has not moved on from the 1980’s. A wasted opportunity. I know I was in the vast minority, but when the potential to tell a great story is there, then why not grab the opportunity.
CAST & CREATIVES
BUDDY HOLLY – A J JENKS
HIPOCKETS DUNCAN – HARRY BOYD
JOE B MAUDLIN – JOE BUTCHER
JERRY ALLISON – JOSH HABERFIELD
NIKI SULLICAN – CHRISTOPHER WEEKS
VI PETTY – RHIANNON HOPKINS
TYRONE JONES – MIGUEL ANGEL
CHANTEL WILLIAMS – CARTIER FRASER
MARLENA MADISON – SASHA LATOYA
MARIA ELENA – HANNAH PRICE
JACKDAW – JORDAN ALEXANDER
RITCHIE VALENS – BEN PRYER
BIG BOPPER – JOSHUA BARTON
WRITER – ALAN JANES
DIRECTOR – MATT SALISBURY
DESIGNER – ADRIAN REES
SOUND DESIGN – PETE COX
LIGHTING DESIGN – DARREN COOPLAND
CHOREOGRAPHY – MIGUEL ANGEL